Real Natures and Familiar Objects


In Real Natures and Familiar Objects Crawford Elder defends, with qualifications, the ontology of common sense. He argues that we exist—that no gloss is necessary for the statement "human beings exist" to show that it is true of the world as it really is—and that we are surrounded by many of the medium-sized objects in which common sense believes. He argues further that these familiar medium-sized objects not only exist, but have essential properties, which we are often able to determine by observation. The starting point of his argument is that ontology should operate under empirical load—that is, it should give special weight to the objects and properties that we treat as real in our best predictions and explanations of what happens in the world. Elder calls this presumption "mildly controversial" because it entails that arguments are needed for certain widely assumed positions such as "mereological universalism" (according to which the sum of randomly assembled objects constitutes an object in its own right).

Elder begins by defending realism about essentialness (arguing that nature's objects have essential properties whose status as essential is mind-independent). He then defends this view of familiar objects against causal exclusion arguments and worries about vagueness. Finally, he argues that many of the objects in which common sense believes really exist, including artifacts and biological devices shaped by natural selection, and that we too exist, as products of natural selection.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Epistemology and Ontology of Essential Natures
  3. 1. Conventionalism: Epistemology Made Easy, Ontology Made Paradoxical
  4. 2. The Epistemology of Real Natures
  5. 3. Real Essential Natures, or Merely Real Kinds?
  6. Causal Exclusion and Compositional Vagueness
  7. 4. Mental Causation versus Physical Causation: Coincidences and Accidents
  8. 5. Causes in the Special Sciences and the Fallacy of Composition
  9. 6. A Partial Response to Compositional Vagueness
  10. Toward a Robust Common-sense Ontology
  11. 7. Artifacts and Other Copied Kinds
  12. 8. Why Austerity in Ontology Does Not Work: The Importance of Biological Causation
  13. Notes
  14. References
  15. Index